Google to auto-delete location history data of users who visit abortion clinics after Roe overturn

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, at least one Big Tech behemoth has openly stated its intention to protect those who choose to break the law.

In a blog posted on Friday, Google’s Senior Vice President of Core Systems and Engagement, Jen Fitzpatrick, announced that the company will begin automatically purging the location data of users if its system detects they have visited, among other “sensitive” places, an abortion clinic.

Citing people’s health privacy, Fitzpatrick wrote, “Protecting our users’ privacy and securing their data is core to Google’s work.”

“Privacy matters to people — especially around topics such as their health,” she continued. “Given that these issues apply to healthcare providers, telecommunications companies, banks, tech platforms, and any more, we know privacy protections cannot be solely up to individual companies or states acting individually.”

While Google users have always been able to edit their own location histories, the company will, beginning “in the coming weeks” begin automatically deleting the location history of anyone who visits “particularly personal” places such as “counseling centers, domestic violence facilities, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others.”

“Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit,” Fitzpatrick stated.

While privacy is a concern shared by most users, some of the announced changes to Google’s policies seem oddly specific to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe.

For example, Fitzpatrick made a point of noting that Fitbit users who use the app to track their menstrual cycles will soon receive an update so they can “delete multiple logs at once.”

And while there appears to be no change to Google’s policy with respect to data requests from law enforcement, Fitzpatrick felt it necessary to restate Google’s “long track record” of “pushing back” against them.

“Google has a long track record of pushing back on overly broad demands from law enforcement, including objecting to some demands entirely,” she reminded readers.

“We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data,” she wrote, “and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable.”

While Fitzpatrick didn’t expressly state it, Fox Business believes the announcement was aimed at protecting “user’s location tracking that could trigger legal problems from states banning the termination of pregnancies.”

“The reversal of Roe vs. Wade could make abortion illegal in more than a dozen states, raising the specter that records about people’s location, texts, searches and emails could be used in prosecutions against abortion procedures or even for medical care sought in a miscarriage,” the outlet reported.

“Like other technology companies,” Fox Business explained, “Google each year receives thousands of government demands for users’ digital records as part of misconduct investigations. According to the company’s internal transparency report, it received nearly 150,000 requests for user data by law enforcement in the first half of 2021 and granted information in 78% of cases.”

In reality, Google’s privacy policy changes likely came at the behest of Congressional Democrats.

As The Hill reported in late May, following the leaked SCOTUS opinion regarding Roe, “40 Democrats sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai Tuesday evening urging the company to stop collecting and storing location data out of concern that it could be obtained by prosecutors to target individuals seeking abortions.”

Led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the letter stated, “We believe that abortion is health care. We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains recognized as a fundamental right, and that all people in the United States have control over their own bodies.”

“That said,” they continued, “we are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.”


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Melissa Fine


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